Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Banned Books

For several days I've been having this argument about moral and immoral books and for several days I've let it slide, but with the new controversy over Jon Stewart and The Daily Show's new book, the fire has been refueled. It all started when I mentioned J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, it happens to be one of my all-time favorite books, but of course came the argument that it is 'immoral' and should have been (and someone believes should still be) banned.

Banned! We're not talking just taken off of the shelf at Wal-Mart, we're talking serious censorship. What is an immoral book? And should every immoral book be banned? I guess it all falls in the definition of what is and what isn't immoral. I'm not stooping to the low of defining immorality from my perspective, but whatever immorality is to these folks who are dead-set on banning books let me enlighten you. Some of the greatest books ever written were at one time banned. James Joyce's Ulysses was not only banned, but in 1922 hundreds of copies were burned by the U.S Post Office. James Joyce--one of the greatest writers in the world and his most famous work was banned.

Joyce is only one of many writers who met harsh censorship. Mark Twain, a great American story-teller faced censorship with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter, Steinbeck's classic Of Mice and Men, and the list goes on. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

I have had only two personal experiences with banned books--one when I was in elementary school and a mother had the Goosebumps series banned from the school library and another when I was a junior in high school. An Honors English class that more or less revolted against the teacher (with help from their parents) because she assigned A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner. I read A Rose for Emily without my classmates that year and occasionally I pull it out and read it because it is one of the greatest short stories available to us. It is essential to studying English and is the best of William Faulkner.

I agree with Oscar Wilde --- "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." My three favorite books, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, and The Catcher in the Rye, have all at one time since their first publication been banned. I'm certainly standing ground with Holden Caulfield and if anyone feels that my position on these so-called "immoral books" is in need of censorship, let me direct you to My Life by Bill Clinton, a national best-seller, and then feel free to ban my website from your political tastes!

1 comment :

Nick Speth said...

It's easy to be critical of censorship of Salinger (one of my favorites too) and Huck Finn, but the question of censorship goes far deeper.

First, I would dispute the concept that no book is immoral (consider the offerings by the North American Man-Boy Love Association, a group of pedophiles).

My conservative heart tells me that governmental censorship is horrible, and should be avoided at all costs, but is it that cut and dry?

What about the above example? Should the government regulate books that encourage crimes? What if someone wrote a book entitled "Burn Down Every Gay Bar and Black Church in America," would that become the government's duty to protect those citizens?

Or is it to be left in the hands of the citizens? Can't we trust most people to see NAMBLA books, or books ecouraging arson against gays and blacks as the stuff of lunatics? I think anticensorship ought to be a conservative policy, even in the case of some pornography.

Still the question is where does the government's duty to "promote the general welfare" begin to supercede the people's right to expression. As to that, I'm afraid I have no answer.